How well do you really know your employees? Beyond the basics of their spouses’ names, the ages of their children, and what they prefer to eat for lunch, most leaders don’t know much about how their employees spend their free time. Perhaps you have a karaoke star or a water polo champ among your ranks, but if you never take an interest in your employees’ hobbies, you’ll never know.
Some leaders prefer to take a hands-off approach when it comes to their employees’ personal lives, but, in fact, getting to know your employees outside of work and taking an active role in supporting their hobbies can benefit your company in several unexpected ways.
The ROI of Supporting Your Employees’ Hobbies
Besides having something to talk about beyond the weather and “The Bachelor,” there are lots of surprising benefits to taking an interest in your employees’ extracurricular activities.
1. Fulfilled workers are productive workers.
It’s a no-brainer that employees who have rich and fulfilling personal lives are bound to be happier individuals, and this satisfaction benefits all aspects of their lives. But research also shows that there’s a definite link between happiness and productivity.
One study found that employees who scored high in life satisfaction received much higher ratings from customers, and another found that employees who scored low in life satisfaction stayed at home, on average, 1.25 more days each month — equaling 15 lost days of productivity per year.
Other research has found that happiness increases sales by 37 percent and productivity by 31 percent. A happy team is something every leader wants, but when you quantify happiness with hard numbers, it becomes something your business needs.
2. Hobbies reveal hidden skills.
People are more than what they do at work on a daily basis. They have hidden passions and talents they may only get to utilize outside of work. But what if you could tap those talents?
Instead of pigeonholing employees in their assigned roles, take an interest in their hobbies. You’ll see another side of the people you spend half your waking hours around and learn what else drives them.
Perhaps an employee who organizes a charity 5K every year would be a great project manager. If she’s chosen a race venue, recruited volunteers, found sponsors, handled insurance waivers, and wrangled hundreds of people, she can probably handle your next big project with ease.
3. Hobbies bring your employees together.
Mutual interests can be a great way to get your employees to spend time together outside of work. These informal interactions, like tossing a ball around or going antiquing, build trust and camaraderie.
Tony Hsieh is a big proponent of hanging out with employees outside of work and encouraging employees to build friendships.
“Communication is better,” says Hsieh. “People are willing to do favors for each other because they are doing favors for friends instead of co-workers.”
Getting your employees to be friends is easy if you’ve built a more informal, horizontal organizational structure to begin with, but it can be more of a challenge in traditional corporate environments where there is a clear hierarchy.
As a leader, it’s your job to get the conversation started and let relationships blossom. Get a group together to do something fun after work to make it clear that there’s no harm in hanging out with co-workers — even “the boss.”
3 Ways to Support Your Employees’ Hobbies
Supporting employees’ hobbies is easy once you get that initial conversation started. Once you know what they enjoy, you can build a support structure that fits their needs.
1. Plan regular company outings.
If one of your employees plays club hockey, that doesn’t mean you have to ask your employees to tie on skates and hit the ice every week. Spectating can be just as fun and provide a great bonding experience for everyone.
2. Bring in outside experts.
Even if your employees aren’t big hobbyists, it’s worth bringing in a friend or an expert to teach employees new skills. Try bringing in someone to teach about improvisation, wine tasting, or even self-defense to help employees gain useful knowledge.
3. Allocate time or money for your employees’ hobbies.
There are a variety of ways to support employees’ hobbies in a more hands-off way. Some employers or their insurance providers offer health credits that employees can use toward gym memberships or fitness classes. You can also budget money for creative pursuits, such as pottery classes or cooking lessons.
If your company doesn’t have the budget to offer monetary support, try offering time instead. Let your team knock off two hours early on a Friday to team with a co-worker and do what they love.
It doesn’t matter how you choose to support your employees’ hobbies — just that you do. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or even involve forcing your employees to spend time together. There are a variety of ways to encourage activities outside of work.
When you invest in your employees’ happiness, it shows that you care. In turn, your employees are more likely to work effectively and stick around — meaning you’ll get to know each other even better.
Matthew Gordon is President and CEO of The Gordon Group, a holding company that primarily manages GraduationSource and Avanti Systems USA. Gordon strives to foster positive corporate culture and empower young minds.
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